“A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter…” 5

Do you remember the Sesame Street episode where the little girl is sent to the store by her mother to pick up a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter? For those DC residents with a corner store in their neighborhood, picking up a gallon of milk or a stick of butter may be as easy as running around the corner.

Although many DC neighborhoods feature corner stores, current zoning does not allow for them. The Office of Planning is recommending a change to the city’s zoning ordinance to include a provision that would continue to grandfather existing stores and allow for new corner stores, as well as other limited service, retail, and arts-related uses, in certain rowhouse zones (currently known as the R-3 and R-4 zones).

Corner stores provide convenient access to goods and services for residents.

Corner stores provide convenient access to goods and services for residents and this has a number of benefits for the District. Programs such as DC Central Kitchen’s Healthy Corners can bring fresh fruits and vegetables to corner stores in food deserts. Corner stores make it easier for the elderly to age in place. If driving is not possible and taking transit is difficult, seniors may be able to walk a few blocks to the nearest corner store to pick up groceries. Convenient access to food and other goods and services can also eliminate automobile trips and reduce emissions.

While corner stores can be a good thing, certain restrictions must be in place to ensure that these businesses do not have a negative impact on the communities they serve. The proposed zoning regulations include conditions to help ensure that corner stores are an amenity and not a problem.

Conditions Relating to Location
• Must be located 500 feet from any commercial zone
• No more than four corner stores within 500 feet of one another and only two may be eating/drinking establishments, such as delis or coffee shops
• Must be located in corner buildings or in a building that was not constructed for residential use

Conditions Relating to Use
• Operating hours are limited (8 AM – 10 PM)
• Maximum of four employees, including the owner, at any one time
• No on-site cooking or consumption of alcohol permitted
• Off-site alcohol sales are limited to 15% of the store’s floor area
• Uses that have significant or outsized impacts would not be permitted – for example, a valet service for pick-up and drop-off of laundry would be permitted, but the use of dry cleaning chemicals would not be permitted

Conditions Relating to Appearance
• One unlit sign
• Parking must be screened
• No storage or garbage permitted outside the store
• Store is limited to 1,200 square feet and must be located on the ground floor

Did we miss anything? Can you think of conditions that would help address corner store issues that you have seen in your neighborhood? Do you have any concerns that could be addressed with additional conditions? Let us know.


  1. My fiancé and I bought a rowhouse in NE. Our neighbors are mostly families who are very neighborly, civic minded and proud of their homes. The only issue that we have is a corner store on our street that attracts loiterers who litter and hang out in front of store all day and all night. We’ve spoken to our neighbors who are concerned about the activities that the loiterers are engaged in. But we don’t know to whom we should communicate our concerns. Does the cornerstore have any responsibilities concerning this matter? What is the best way to deal with these issues?

  2. It’s easy enough to walk around my neighborhood (Trinidad) or nearby neighborhoods (like Capitol Hill) and see buildings that used to be corner stores, or some other kind of commercial use, that aren’t anymore. Does OP have a list of buildings that once held commercial uses, don’t currently, but could again with the right change to the zoning code?

  3. We don’t have an inventory of buildings that were constructed for non-residential purposes. OP anticipates that property owners would certify compliance with the “built for the purpose of a non-residential use” provision on a case-by-case basis.

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